3D printing at the Union City STEM Summer Camp

Design thinking, 3D printing, and Union City STEM Summer Camp

While Union City students are looking forward to the summer, they're not thinking about spending time on the beach or at the pool. There's another kind of fun to be enjoyed!

May means summer is just around the corner. Students and teachers are already dreaming of sunny months at the Jersey shore and beyond, full of smiles, drinks, and barbecues. In Union City, a small densely populated urban town in northern New Jersey right across the river from New York City, the thoughts are no different. A majority of students and teachers in Union City are already dreaming of open fire hydrants cooling people on hot steamy nights.

However, there is a small group of kids and educators in Union City who are not envisioning the normal summer fun in the sun, but rather dreaming of returning back to school for the summer months. Unlike others, they are not thinking of beaches and boardwalks, but rather the start of the Union City Summer STEM Camps.

Union City STEM Camps have been running for the past three summers in the Union City School District. Being one of the creators, innovators, and organizers of the Union City STEM Camp, I have had the honor to develop some great ideas. As a technology facilitator for the Union City School District, I have been a very busy educator in New Jersey. I am a TED Innovative Educator, educational leader of the Maker Depot, ambassador with over 15 edtech companies, part of the Future Ready Schools of New Jersey committee, consultant, speaker, 3D printing enthusiast, maker, STEAM specialist, and an Ultimaker Pioneer.

My primary goal is to identify and implement new ideas and possibilities for how students can practice a design thinking approach to projects. The design thinking approach is actually the heartbeat of our Union City STEM Camps, It is amazing to see what student creativity can lead to!


I have designed a STEM camp that exposes inner city kids to some of the latest and greatest in Making and STEM. The camps are completely “green” in the sense that there are no paper or pencils. Every camper receives an iPad and Mac laptop. All materials and curriculum were created in iBooks for the teachers/facilitators and workbook versions for the students to fill up with content. Right now there are currently two STEM courses that have been created and there will be a third version for the upcoming summer. The two courses are broken up into to three sub-classes:

  • Making/Coding
  • Sustainability/Urban Farming
  • Sharing/Document Learning via Media

STEM 1 introduces the students and teachers to how to use the tools, equipment, and kits in the courses. STEM 2 courses are a deeper dive into these topics with a PBL twist. The new STEM 3 course will give experienced campers an option of what track they would like to explore: Maker, Builder, Creator, or Developer. Each track then incorporates five strands into that track which are Design, Programming, Physical Computing, Manufacturing, and Community/Sharing.

Being a Raspberry Pi Certified Educator and part of the first class of American Picademy attendees, I have included the Raspberry Pi Digital Making Curriculum as a foundation for the new STEM 3 courses which provides campers an opportunity to really take a deep dive into STEM.


camp activity

Design thinking and 3D printing play a huge part in the Union City STEM Camps. In STEM 1 courses, design thinking concepts and processes are introduced to the campers and it is directly connected to 3D printing. In STEM 2, campers take their knowledge of design thinking and 3D printing to transform ideas into projects. STEM 2 has students 3D print a hydroponic urban farm system to promote sustainability and fresh food in inner cities. STEM 3 will give campers the opportunity to design their own systems based on their living conditions. Design thinking slowly becomes a tool that students rely on, not just in camp, but in their lives.   


The summer of 2017 will be one full of fun memories of time spent on New Jersey beaches, boardwalks, amusement parks and barbecues. However, in Union City, kids will be yelling and cheering with excitement because the program they created worked, the design they made is a good fit for a problem, the 3D printer provided them with a prototype, their maker skills were put to the test, and much, much more.  At the end of STEM camp, Union City runs its own Maker Faire to celebrate the accomplishments of STEM camp. For some, Maker Faire represents a sign of learning accomplishments, but for others, it’s a time to say goodbye to having fun and exploring in their school. Either way, Union City STEM campers have lots of “hard fun” to get done this summer!